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The healing power of nature

Lockdown 2020 – what a year. Who would have thought this time last year we would all be crossing our fingers to be able to enjoy a reasonable Christmas?  As I look back on the year and reflect, I do believe that despite everything there have been some positive things that have happened. My main one being finally getting a place of my own and successfully managing to get my 2 sons on repatriation flights in September to join me after a very long 9 month wait. The best thing about my new home is its proximity to nature. I am, it seems, more of a country girl at heart.

I have for many years struggled with my mental health and a few years ago I discovered that being in beautiful natural surroundings is like a balm to my soul. My psychologist at the time used to ask me to visualise my “happy place” and for me it was always a house in the countryside with a wraparound veranda and views of fields and trees. Over the years when feeling low I have made a point of going somewhere for a walk or a cup of coffee in a café with a garden. Coming from South Africa, sadly walking around the forest or green spaces on my own (and in some instances at all) just was not an option.

During the first lockdown in March I was fortunate enough to be living near an area of woodland and fields and mid-April, once I had tired of Joe Wicks in the morning, I headed out for a walk. My aim was to walk 10,000 steps a day in the hope of getting fitter. What I wasn’t expecting was how much I enjoyed my walks and the beauty that surrounded me. It was early spring and with the lockdown came the birds – or the sound of birds. I would stop and listen, and when you stop and listen, you notice things – the bright green fern fronds unfurling themselves, green shoots on the trees, carpets of green on the forest floor.

I found I looked forward to the walks, even if some days it was hard to get out of bed for them. Working from home meant I used my commuting time to walk instead. Occasionally as the days grew longer, I would go out in the evening after work as well. I watched the seasons change through the eyes of the forest – bluebell meadows come and go, rhododendron lined pathways adding colour to the shades of green. The air was filled with the scent of grass, trees, nature.

The second lockdown has seemed much harder and I can’t quite put my finger on why. I still, thankfully, have a job and am able to work from home; I have a flat that I can call home and my boys by my side; and friends (both near and far) to support to me. But I have struggled. Some days I’ve barely made it out of bed. As a single parent with 3 teenage boys I could not afford to fall into the deep dark well of depression I have found myself in before and had to find a way through.

I hadn’t properly explored my new area and decided, on a sunny day, to go for a walk and nosey around. It was one of my best ideas for the month of October! The colours of autumn were all around me – the glorious reds, golds and russet browns interspersed with bright red berries, the white of winter roses and the lush green fields. The village further along from mine is quaint and beautiful – the houses, the gardens, the window boxes. And as I walked through a new woodland, the air around me was heavy with the smell of the forest, the earth, the autumn leaves that had fallen. I stopped and looked at the colours, the bright green moss, the ivy twisting its way up tree trunks, little pink and orange flowers I had never seen before and felt better.

Some days I manage to get out and I love it. Not only does the exercise, the wonderful palette of colours and the fresh air do me good, but it is a time to be alone with my thoughts. I think and think and think – happy thoughts, sad thoughts, worries, hopes, dreams, plans. It is uninterrupted me-time. I have my phone with my playlist, and I listen to music that stirs my soul, reminds me of people and places or put a spring in my step. As I walk and listen and take in the beauty around me, I start to feel better. I have also discovered it is quite fun to walk in the rain – once you are wet you are wet – you can’t really get wetter – and it is simply divine to get home, jump into a warm shower and slip on warm cosy clothes afterwards. I have enjoyed watching the seasons change and am keeping my fingers crossed for a little snow – I can think of nothing better than tramping through the quiet white landscape with my thoughts, my music and soak it all up.

 

Nicola Bjorkman

Nici is the Assistant to the Director of Education & Communications Coordinator and the wellbeing lead at Gray’s Inn.